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Bickering, power struggles, camps: Rahul Gandhi’s visit lays bare internal strife in Punjab Congress

Though Rahul’s visit managed to bring most of the senior Congress leaders on the party’s stage, it was not without repercussions.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh | October 8, 2020 9:25:14 am
Rahul Gandhi with CM Amrinder Singh during the 'Kheti Bachao Rally' in Punjab. (Express Photo by Gurmeet Singh)

Former AICC president Rahul Gandhi’s three-day visit to Punjab exposed the internal tensions in the state Congress — from the gulf between the CM Capt Amarinder Singh and former Cabinet minister Navjot Sidhu to bickering among leaders — for all to see.

Though Rahul’s visit managed to bring most of the senior Congress leaders on the party’s stage, it was not without repercussions. On the first day of the tractor rally, while Sidhu’s body language and his speech evoked strong reactions from the party, Rahul left alone to cross the Haryana border on Tuesday.

The discomfort was evident when Cabinet Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa handed Sidhu a slip to hurry up while the latter was on stage, and Sidhu retorting by saying, “Do not stop me today. I was made to sit without talking earlier also.”

Randhawa, it is learnt, is miffed with Sidhu and is likely to take up the issue at the party platform. However, he refused to comment, saying, “What is the issue with the media? This is our internal matter.”

AICC general secretary in-charge Harish Rawat was left to give explanations. “I was the one who sent the slip to Randhawa ji. I sent it even to Captain Sahib and Jakhar sahib because we did not want to keep the farmers waiting in the sun. But Sidhu ji has his style of saying things. Party needs him. No controversy or power can stop him from shining. Not even time can stop him because he is dedicated to Punjab and Congress. That is his biggest strength. He is an important part of our scheme for future, “ he told media on Wednesday.

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He said the controversy created on stage involving Sidhu was his (Rawat’s) creation. “I had directed Randhawa ji to send him the slip. What Sidhu said was also correct. Why would a person with such potential be made to sit quiet? That is why now I am thinking of how to make use of his strength. We will utilise him. A capable son can strength the roots.”

AMARINDER HOSTS RAWAT

Amarinder hosted Rawat over lunch on Wednesday. But even after the luncheon meeting, Rawat’s stand on Sidhu did not change. While Amarinder had come out openly against Sidhu on TV channels, Rawat backed Sidhu to the hilt while speaking to media at Punjab Bhawan on Wednesday.

The CM came out against Sidhu when he told the media that he had no role to give Sidhu unless he wants to take up the power department that he had already handed him. “But he ran away from taking up power,” Amarinder told the media. He added that Sidhu was just three years old in Congress and went on to say that he could not be made the PPCC chief. Amarinder named three leaders — Manish Tewari, Tript Bajwa and Sukhjinder Randhawa — who he said were Congressmen virtually by birth. “How could they be ignored?”

Rawat said, “What Captain Sahib is saying is a principled stand. But he also knows that sometimes such stands too have to be changed. Sidhu is an extraordinary personality. Whatever responsibility is given to him he will do it to the best of his ability…We will find a way.”

Navjot Singh Sidhu

RAWAT’S SUPPORT FOR SIDHU CREATES A FLUTTER

Rawat giving importance to Sidhu, going to the latter’s house, bringing him along to Rahul’s show, has caused resentment among many Congress leaders, sources said.

“What Rawat is conveying is certainly the high command’s message. But Rahul cannot ignore the entire leadership to placate one leader,” said a party leader considered close to the CM. He added that Rawat’s visit to Sidhu’s house twice in two days did not go down well with the CM. “The very next day he gave an interview and said Sidhu can only get power department. He will not budge from his stand.”

PRESENCE OF HARYANA LEADERS

The presence of leaders from Haryana including Deepinder Hooda and Randeep Surjewala in the three-day tractor rally of the Congress created heartburn among the Punjab leaders. That the tractor right behind Rahul was driven by Hooda, several party leaders have been raising questions about why some local leader could do the same. “Also, Rahul’s press conference in Punjab was conducted by Surjewala while the CM and PPCC chief Sunil Jakhar sat like mute spectators. Why were they not involved?” asked a leader.

Rahul Gandhi in Moga

MANY ASPIRANTS FOR POST OF CAPT’S POLITICAL HEIR

“Rahul’s visit and before that Rawat’s importance given to Sidhu has created an impression that the high command wants to hand over the reins of the party to Sidhu. He is a popular leader. But how many leaders will accept his authority? If the team is not with the leader, how will he survive? There are many like Partap Singh Bajwa, Shamsher Singh Dullo, and even most of the Cabinet ministers. Why would they accept him? This is the point of discussions among the party now,” a leader told The Indian Express on anonymity.

CM’S STAUNCH SUPPORTER: MAKE BAJWA PPCC CHIEF

Rajinder Singh Badheri, leader of Jat Mahasabha, an organisation created by Amarinder a few years ago, demanded that Bajwa be made the PPCC chief. “Jakhar should be made to go. Bajwa can bring everyone together on the common platform,” he said.

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